Bardolino DOC makes distinct wines, Bardolino and Chiaretto di Bardolino, that the world will come to appreciate. For publication in the week starting 22 October 2018.
Chiaretto is a crisp rosé made from red grapes using methods usually reserved for white wines. Winemakers limit the juice’s contact with skins, which reduces the colour. The resulting wine is pale pink. Hence the name, from the Italian word “chiaro” meaning “light” or “pale”.
Bardolino is a lighter type of red with high acidity and soft tannins. Traditionally both wines have been designed to be consumed young. Bardolino DOC is promoting three sub-zones known as La Rocca, Montebaldo and Sommacampagna.
The perfumed aromas of fermenting wine surrounded me when I arrived at Monte del Frà in Sommacampagna, the first of a range of memorable visits to wineries in the Bardolino DOC earlier this month. The estate is named after the religious order of brothers (fra) who lived on the hills (monte) in the area. Napoleon’s troops demolished the original monastery.
Three in five bottles produced at Monte del Frà are white, with the rest red and rosé. Export manager Paola Antonaci said wines were blended to meet a consistent style and the estate exported to 51 countries.
The estate makes a range of excellent wines from several regions. The best are their Bardolinos, which offer rich and spicy notes, and their textural and zingy Chiarettos.
Cantine Tinazzi makes two kinds of rosé, one designed for the domestic market and the other for overseas sales. The specifications are almost identical for each wine. The estate has a cooking school and it was fun to make the pasta and sauce for our own lunch.
The Santi winery exudes history and character. The estate makes Valpolicella wines as well as Bardolino. Cellar director Cristian Ridolfi explained the technicalities of the drying process used to make Amarone, and why three red grapes – Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella – are used in the blend. Corvina is susceptible to rot when humidity is high but provides good acidity (though it lacks tannin). Corvinone contributes peppery flavours and tannin. Rondinella adds colour and tannin.
Sweetness increases during the 120-day drying process as grapes lose 30 per cent of their volume. Santi uses barrels made from cherry and chestnut as well as traditional oak from France and Slavonia. Chestnut and cherry barrels are more expensive because they take longer to make than French oak, and everyone wants them, Ridolfi said. “Every winery wants chestnut at the moment.” A cherry barrel costs about 2,000 Euro – about twice the price of a French barrique.
Canopy management is one of the keys to successful grape production. The Bardolino region uses Guyot and trellises. The aim with Bardolino is to get higher sunshine to ripen grapes, while with Chiaretto the aim is to lessen the amount of sun to get higher acidity.
Poggio delle Grazie is a small estate of 15 hectares that sold grapes to other winemakers before starting to make their own Chiaretto in 2014. Most of their wines are worth seeking.
One of the highlights of my time in Bardolino was encountering the wines of Le Fraghe. Winemaker and owner Matilde Poggi (at left) is president of Independent Winemakers of Italy and makes delicious wine. She is an individual: “I’m not following the market, I’m making wines to follow my own taste.”
Poggi’s 2017 Bardolino is a zesty delight of strawberries with a distinct chalky mineral backbone that sings in the mouth. She has been using screwcaps since 2008 because “they are best for my wines”. Her 2017 Rodon Chiaretto is also delicious.
Silvio Piona is making small amounts of quality wine at Albino Piona. Through a translator he told me he fell into a vat of wine aged four and avoided wine until he was 20, which must have worried his family because he is the fourth generation. Piona’s 2017 Bardolino was one of the best tasted during a week in the region.
Vigneti Villabella produces close to four million bottles a year. Franco Cristoforetti is a co-owner and also president of the Bardolino Consorzio. He explained that the wine estate is part of the giant Cristoforetti-Delibori group founded 40 years ago by Walter Delibori and Franco’s father Giorgio Cristoforetti.
The estate produces a wide range of wines from both the Valpolicella and Bardolino DOCs, including a group of excellent organic wines. The estate has an excellent Michelin-starred restaurant called Oseleta, named after the small bird that eats ripe grapes.
A highlight was a tasting of the company’s Villa Cordevigo white (2015) and red (2011). Both are made from grapes that have been air-dried. “The red sells very well in China,” Franco said, “partly because of its quality and partly because it’s half the price of Amarone.” The white has a distinct aroma known locally as “luigia,” a combination of lemon and mint flavours. It is 80 per cent Garganega with the balance Sauvignon Blanc.
Franco said consorzio members were proud to make rosé. “We want to be known around the world for making rosé.” Bardolino is the only region in Italy that produces rosé from indigenous grapes.
Daniele Domenico Delaini (shown below) is the owner and winemaker at Villa Calicantus. He pushes against convention, making Bardolino and Chiaretto designed to be cellared rather than the local approach of selling the current vintage.
Delaini’s wines are superb, full of energy and character from an organic estate that will be fully certified as bio-dynamic in 2020 (the process takes five years). He worked as a banker in Paris before he realised his true passion. In 2011 Delaini returned to Italy to resurrect the family estate, which has fallen into disrepair. It is a beautiful place, 2km from Lake Garda. “If a place has beauty, it will make beautiful wine,” he told me.
Delaini aims to make wines that are elegant like Burgundy and can be cellared for decades. All have that something extra that makes them stand out. His best is the Bardolino Avresir (the name is riserva in reverse) made from low-yielding vines. It spends two years in barrel (30 per cent new oak) then a year in bottle before release. “It is my focus because I believe the region needs a flagship concept, a way to be known to the world. Delaini is a name to remember for the future.
Another exciting visit was to the Tenuta La Presa estate, which makes sparkling wines from local grapes as well as Bardolino and Chiaretto. The Bardolino is amusingly named “Baldovino” in reference to a local mountain with a bald top. It is full of wild strawberries and red currants with zingy acidity. All of their wines exuded class.
The week in Bardolino ended with a masterclass of rosès from around Italy. The wines included Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Castel del Monte Bombino Nero, Salice Salentino Rosato and Cirò Rosato as well as Chiaretto. If nothing else the tasting showed the quality of rosé in the country.
Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was the guest of the Consorzio Tutela Vino di Bardolino who provided transport, accommodation and meals.